|Seven (New Line Platinum Series)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 19 December 2000|
When New Line Home Video decides to bring out a special edition of a movie, they don’t fool around. Their two-disc Platinum Series release of 1995’s ‘Seven’ comes with so many extras that diligent viewers may start to feel that they’ve personally worked on the movie before they’re finished.
Five years after its theatrical release, ‘Seven’ still has the power to disturb. It’s about as dark – in killer’s methods, in visual style and in conclusion – as thrillers come. Despite some flaws that may wear on the audience, the film emerges as potent and nervy.
In an unnamed city, about-to-retire Det. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and ambitious up-and-coming newcomer Det. David Mills (Brad Pitt) are on the trail of a serial killer who is fixated on the Seven Deadly Sins of the Bible. Each of his deeds is designed to illustrate a different transgression (gluttony, sloth, et al). The murderer takes his time at his work, torturing his victims for hours, days – in one instance, even a year – all to make a point.
Writer Andrew Kevin Walker has created a human monster of genuinely legendary dimensions. Indeed, a weird set of double meanings envelop ‘Seven’s concluding portions: when the killer says he believes the extremity of his actions will cause people to pay attention, it is true for the film itself as well as for the character.
The final message is open to interpretation – which makes it all the more discussion-worthy – but there’s no denying the inventiveness and ferocity of the viciousness depicted here. Proving that the mind can be more graphic than any image created for the camera, only one killing is actually shown as it happens (and this is by far the quickest of the lot), but the end results of the murderer’s handiwork and the revelation of exactly what he’s up to cause horror to permeate every frame.
Director David Fincher allows the tension to build, hinting at catastrophe to come until he’s at last able to make us squirm with apprehension even in a scene of evil apparently brought to heel in broad outdoor daylight. Fincher favors shadows and grunge, which largely serves the film’s tone, but occasionally strain credibility: doesn’t anyone in this city have overhead lighting fixtures?
There are a few other drawbacks as well, particularly in the first half. The hostility between the two detectives tries our patience without telling us much that’s new about either man. There’s nothing wrong with wringing a new twist on the idea of adversarial partners, but ‘Seven’ provides no fresh insights on this front – it’s saving all of these for the crimes and their aftermath.
Still, the mixture of visceral visuals and restrained insinuation is ultimately as chilling and troubling as it’s meant to be. Fincher and Walker have between them crafted a true original.
Picture quality here is always impressive, especially because so many of the frames are so dark. For a quintessential ‘Seven’ image, showing how well the DVD transfer handles light contrasts, jump to Chapter 17, with a classic shot of flashlight beams illuminating a deeply shadowed hallway.
The DTS sound mix on the DVD makes unusually potent use of the rears, beginning with an extremely realistic train that rumbles right through the theatre environment in Chapter 1, returning in Chapter 12 to shake things up further. Chapter 2 features thunder that booms with such lifelike, unexpected volume that unwary viewers may jump. Chapter 5 suffers from a slightly fuzzy center channel, a problem exacerbated by raspy voices. By Chapter 7, the dialogue track is noticeably clearer. Chapter 22 has some particularly dimensional gunfire sounds, suggesting the actual trajectory of the bullets through the scene. Chapter 24 has a phone ring so convincing that viewers may pick up their own receivers by mistake. Chapter 26 features headbanger rock at a throbbing volume that would make Spinal Tap ecstatic – it’s a relief when it stops. Chapter 37 features excellent movement of helicopter rotors, flying from left to right through the rears, replaced with an emphatic burst of music.
As mentioned above, there’s a treasure trove of supplemental material on the two disks. The audio commentary on the first disk, from Fincher, Pitt and Freeman, is some of the most entertaining DVD narration to come down the pike in a good while, with all three playing off one another, having a great time while still being genuinely informative. Another commentary track, hosted by English film professor Richard Dyer, with writer Walker and a host of others, analyzes the story in intriguing if somewhat less compelling fashion. There are supposed to be two other audio options, one on the cinematography and a music-only track with comments from composer Howard Shore, but these cannot be readily accessed via any regular menu features.
The second disk has seven deleted scenes, a few of which are engaging but none of which seem any great loss. These can be watched with or without Fincher’s commentary. The live-action "alternate ending" doesn’t feature many major changes from the release version, consisting mainly of slightly different camera angles and performance choices. A series of storyboards, narrated by Fincher, provides insight into how the finale might have played somewhat (though not substantially) differently. For aspiring DVD makers, there’s also a look at how the picture and sound were mastered for this release.
The menus themselves have the potential to be ever-so-mildly annoying on repeated use, as there’s no immediately apparent way to bypass the animated seven sins – admittedly cool the first few times you see them – en route to the actual options. However, this is hardly a major complaint. ‘Seven’ is a must-see for fans of dark thrillers. For fans of Pitt, Freeman and/or Fincher, it’s a must-have for their commentary alone.